It has been a moving experience to listen to this great pianist (1852-1933) playing nearly a hundred years ago. In Vladimir de Pachmann's 1907 recordings his mature art is untarnished by 'the eccentricities which enveloped the pianist as he grew older' (Mark Mitchell).
Arbiter takes an austere approach to CD transfer of ancient piano recordings. So as not to compromise tone quality of the originals, background noise is not interfered with. For me, this was quite unimportant; within half a minute I had adjusted to listening to the music through the background. Quickly I was entranced by the beauty of Pachmann's tone and delicacy in familiar Chopin favourites, and the naturalness of his interpretations.
Arbiter's new restoration is claimed to have revealed a range of dynamics and articulation previously not known. Pachmann's playing convinced many in his huge audiences that they were hearing the musical voice of Chopin himself, such was his tone, phrasing and articulation. The pianist took his recordings very seriously, understanding that they would outlive him. We are enormously privileged to be collecting recordings in the 21st century, able to switch from contemporary giants recorded with state-of-the-art digital techniques, alongside historical records sounding better than ever before. Whilst it would be interesting to know how a sensitive expert like Mark Obert-Thorn (whose Schnabel restorations are being re-released by Naxos) would treat the Pachmann originals, I am completely content to study and enjoy Arbiter's transfers.
The presentation is lavish, with illustrations and full notes by producer Allan Evans and Mark Mitchell, author of an authoritative and vastly entertaining biography of the pianist, Vladimir de Pachmann: a Piano Virtuoso's Life & Art (Indiana University Press, 2002), which I have reviewed for Music & Letters.
Copyright © 2004, Peter Grahame Woolf